Friday, October 20, 2006
Why Nancy Pelosi is the cure for all that ails us
1) Why everything Hugo Chavez touches turns to ashes (SIDE NOTE: How bad is Chavez's streak? He's losing to bloggers!!);Am I serious about Pelosi? You'll have to click and see!!
Among the exciting visual changes -- I move to a comfy chair and change my beverage of choice.
I might add that Professor Althouse, who is a generation older than I, looks about five years my junior in the video. No wonder she's constantly getting her picture taken for brochures.
So you think you know something about world politics
Foreign Policy has a killer eight-question quiz to test your "global knowledge."
Go check it out. I only got six out of eight correct, and I confess that I guessed on more than one of them.
North Korea says they don't need no stinking tests
Despite reports earlier this week that North Korea had been planning three more nuclear tests, there are fresh reports that North Korea is saying there will be no more tests. From the Korea Times:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told a ranking Chinese envoy that his country has no plan to conduct additional nuclear tests, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Friday (Oct. 20).Reacting to the news, Glenn Reynolds asks: "Is it because diplomacy worked? (Yay, Condi!) Or is it because his scientists told him there was no chance of a pulling off a successful test any time soon?"
I'd say the answer is "none of the above." I'd have to go with "threats of Chinese economic coercion":
China is weighing tough measures to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions, with government experts calling for the reduction of critical supplies of oil and food that have helped sustain its isolated, impoverished neighbor.I shiuld confess that I have a theoretical stake in this answer -- but I don't think eirther diplomacy alone or Kim's worries about technical screw-ups are sufficient to explain this climbdown. Indeed, on the latter moltivation, one of the reasons to conduct nuclear tests is to figure out how to prevent mistakes in the future. The DPRK's first test -- which was a partial failure -- increased the incentive to conduct more tests.
Whether the DPRK returns to six-party talks remains to be seen.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Does losing Tom Friedman mean losing middle america?
It seems that a lot of people in the Bush administration read Tom Friedman's Tuesday column, which characteizes recent Iraqi insurgency tactics to, "the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive."
ABC reports that this came up in Bush's interview with Georege Stephanopolous:
Stephanopoulos asked whether the president agreed with the opinion of columnist Tom Friedman, who wrote in The New York Times today that the situation in Iraq may be equivalent to the Tet offensive in Vietnam almost 40 years ago.Meanwhile, in a Time interview, Dick Cheney brings up the analogy on his own:
The other thing that I'd mention, too, not really in response to your question: I'm struck by the fact that what's being attempted here is to break our will. (New York Times columnist Thomas) Friedman has got an interesting piece today on it, talking about the extent to which the enemy in this stage in Iraq aim very much at the American people... (they) use the media to gain access through technical means that are available now on the Internet and everything else to create as much violence as possible, as much bloodshed as possible and get that broadcast back into the United States as a way to try to shape opinion and influence the outcome of our debate here at home. And I think some of that is going on, too.The U.S. military also seems obsessed with Tet, as Michael Luo reports in the New York Times (link via Kevin Drum):
The American military’s stepped-up campaign to staunch unrelenting bloodshed in the capital under an ambitious new security plan that was unveiled in August has failed to reduce the violence, a military spokesman said today.While it's interesting that the administration is now embracing Vietnam analogies, there's a problem with comparing Iraq now to the Tet Offensive. The two ostensibly share the efforts by insurgents to affect the domestic political landscape of their adversary. Today's New York Times front page spells that out.
However, Tet, was a military reversal of the first order for the Viet Cong and NVA. Is there any evidence, any metric out there, that shows the insurgency in Iraq to be weakening in any way? Even Cheney allows in his interview, "I expressed the sentiment some time ago that I thought we were over the hump in terms of violence, I think that was premature. I thought the elections would have created that environment. And it hasn't happened yet."
Question to readers: given current trends, is there any evidence that it will ever happen?
It's my virtual idea!! Mine!! Mine!!
It's been quite the week for news coverage of virtual world. Today the New York Times dogpiles on, with this story by Richard Siklos about how corporations are making their presence known in Second Life:
This parallel universe, an online service called Second Life that allows computer users to create a new and improved digital version of themselves, began in 1999 as a kind of online video game.If corporations are moving into virtual worlds, it's just a matter of time before there are virtal anti-corporate protestors. And when that happens, well, then there's an opportunity for virtal professors of global political economy to enter the scene!!
Fletcher had better watch out. If I'm offered a virtual endowed chair, with the ability to mutate into any animal on earth, and a virtual Salma Hayek catering to my every whim... [You're going to the bad place again--ed.]
Somewhat more seriously, the growth of virtual worlds suggests an entirely new testing arena for social scientists. For example, the highlighted section suggests an intriguing experiment for a marketing professor: what is the power of branding independent of economies of scale?
An even more interesting meta-question -- does the virtual nature of the world remove ethical constraints that exist in real-world testing? Could someone run a virtual version of the Milgram study?
Question to international relations scholars who know something about these virtual worlds -- what IR hypotheses, if any, could be tested in these virtual worlds?
UPDATE: In related virtual news, the Joint Economic Committee has fired a warning show across the bow of the IRS on the question of taxing virtual profits. In related real news, further progress has been made towards an invisibility cloak.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
From now on, when you hear "Drezner," think of strength, security... and minty freshness!!
After three years of blogging, it's time to do a major rethink. With the blogging "market" increasingly crowded, the model of an eclectic, general interest blog is a less viable one. Perhaps more importantly, I'm just getting tired of the punditry style of blogging. I'm not enjoying writing that style as much; for that matter, I'm not enjoying reading other punditry blogs very much these days....I've always admired Bainbridge's blog, but this last sentence led to a Scrubs-like daydream:
BAINBRIDGE: So I'm thinking of doing more niche-blogging in business law and economics.Seriously, for me, half of the fun of this blog is that I can talk about anything that comes into my head. Any thoughts I had to branding the blog disappear when I flash back to some advice Eszter Hargittai once gave me when I was thinking about bringing in guest-bloggers, which went something like: "Your blog is an expression of your identity -- why would you want to dilute or confine it?"
On the other hand, maybe I'm not taking this seriously enough. Writing in to Bainbridge, Bruce Bartlett adds:
I know that there are many blogs I used to read regularly that I now seldom read. The growth of partisanship is part of the reason, but there has also been a decline in substantive discussion.... The reason is simple: it’s hard work to be substantive. After a few months of blogging, most bloggers simply use up their substantive knowledge and must either rehash old hash or venture into areas where their knowledge is lacking.To mildly disagree with Bruce two posts in a row, I don't think he's got the whole story. Sure, some blogs burn out and fade away, while others become pale imitations of what they once were. Rather than think of these kind of inexorable trends, however, I suspect that blogs, like much of life, are cyclical. Attentive readers can surely point to days or weeks where it's clear that blogging has not been at the top of my priority list. This doesn't mean that I'm fading away... it (hopefully) means I'm acquiring new forms of substantive knowledge that trickle down onto the blog. That or I'm tickling my children.
Blogging doesn't get old for me because the world stays interesting. Taxes on virtual reality? Hugo Chavez suffering yet another diplomatic reversal? Mel Gibson following the path I've laid before him? I'm there!!
That said, maybe I'm wrong. A (dangeous) question to readers: which blogs do you think started out great but have devolved?
What if the Dems take over the Congress?
Bruce Bartlett has an op-ed in today's New York Times that spells out what will happen should the Democrats take over one or both houses of Congress. Bartlett's answer: not much:
As a Republican, I have a message for those fearful of Democratic control: don’t worry. Nothing dreadful is going to happen. Liberals have much less to gain than they believe....Bartlett's take is correct as far as it goes, but it's a bit incomplete.
It is undoubtedly true -- as it was in 1994 -- that a political party can't really execute an ambitious governing strategy from the legislative branch. However, a Democratic Congress would alter the political and policy playing field in one certain and one uncertain way.
The certain way is that the Democrats would get some agenda-setting power. Even if Bush can veto a bill, the Democrats can send up bills that might be politically popular as a way to make Republicans look bad. This is one reason why everyone inside the Beltway believes that a Democratic takeover will lead to a hike in the minimum wage. Hearings will be an even cheaper way of doing this -- and the staffing issue that Bartlett raises seems pretty minor to me.
The uncertain way is that a Democratic takeover gives Nancy Pelosi an effective veto over anything Bush wants/needs from the Congress. What's uncertain about this is the effect it will have on actual policy. Will the Dems act as deficit-cutters beyond refusing to extend some of the Bush tax cuts?
I dunno -- I'll ask the Dems in the crowd to give their provisional answers.
UPDATE: Harold Meyerson's Washington Post column addresses this topic as well.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
What do Boston and Bangalore have in common?
The demand for trained IT workers is having some interesting effects in both India and Massachusetts.
India first -- Somini Sengupta reports in the New York Times that skills shortages could act as a bottleneck for the Indian service sector:
As its technology companies soar to the outsourcing skies, India is bumping up against an improbable challenge. In a country once regarded as a bottomless well of low-cost, ready-to-work, English-speaking engineers, a shortage looms.[Oh, sure, all this outsourcing to India means demand for jobs there, but not in the U.S.A.!!--ed.] Au contraire, my italicized friend -- the Boston Globe's Robert Gavin reports on what's happening to the tech sector in Massachusetts:
Massachusetts' economic recovery has gathered momentum in recent months, and there's a good reason: The technology sector is back....This war for talent appears to be a global phenomenon -- be sure to check out the Economist's recent survey for more. Bloggers are mentioned.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Nice try, Hugo
The BBC reports that Hugo Chavez's efforts to win himself a rotating seat on the UN Security Council do not look like they are going to succeed:
A crucial fight for one of Latin America's UN Security Council seats remains deadlocked.It is true that Guatemala would likely be a more pliant U.S. ally than, say, Costa Rica or other compromise candidates. However, the gap between those countries and Venezuela on the UNSC is much, much larger.
So, in this case, the U.S. wins so long as Venezuela loses -- and that looks pretty much certain at this point.
For more on those who did win seats at the UNSC, click here.
UPDATE: Oh, I forgot to mention -- the Chavez-backed candidate for the Ecuadorian presidency suffered a bit of a setback yesterday. Here's the AP report by Monte Hayes:
A Bible-toting banana magnate who favors close ties with the U.S. defied expectations by narrowly outpolling an admirer of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the first round of Ecuador's presidential election.Because of Noboa's showing, Ecuador's benchmark bond had its biggest gain in at least six years.
UPDATE: Bloomberg reports that Guatemala still leads Venezuela after the 10th ballot -- though Venezuela caught up to Guatemala in the 6th round.
The economics of worlds colliding
However, for some reason I'm in the middle of one of those punctuated equilibrium in which I become inundated with information about a phenomenon that I was only dimly aware of before the equilibrium was achieved.
So I'm going to inflict all these links on you.
Users of online worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft transact millions of dollars worth of virtual goods and services every day, and these virtual economies are beginning to draw the attention of real-world authorities.2) Indiana University's Joshua Fairfield and Edward Castronova have a draft paper entitled, "Dragon Kill Points: A Summary Whitepaper.":
This piece briefly describes the self-enforcing and non-pecuniary resource allocation system used by players in virtual worlds to allocate goods produced by a combination of player effort (the effort required to organize a group and overcome challenges) and the game itself (which “generates the good” – the input here is the time of the design staff).3) Finally, I stumbled upon the South Park take on the whole World of Warcraft phenomenon. I got to see the entire episode before it was deleted for copyright reasons. This clip provides a nice precis of the show, however: That is all.
Maudissez cette culture américaine séduisant!
In the International Heald-Tribune, Eric Pfanner reports that despite rising anti-Americanism in Europe, American television has actually become more popular, not less:
In the Parliaments and pubs of Europe, the United States may wallow in least-favored-nation status. But on European television, American shows have not been as popular since the 1980s heyday of "Dallas," "Dynasty" and "The Dukes of Hazzard."It would appear that American television producers have pulled off the same feat as other American multinationals -- marketing their wares to anti-American publics.
My favorite quote from the story: "As recently as 1999, Zeiler said, the only American fare shown during prime time on RTL in Germany was reruns of 'Quincy.'"
The Lancet study -- the sequel
I've been traveling quite a bit recently, so I'm quite late to the party on the eight page study published in The Lancet which concludes the following:
Pre-invasion mortality rates were 5·5 per 1000 people per year (95% CI 4·3–7·1), compared with 13·3 per 1000 people per year (10·9–16·1) in the 40 months post-invasion. We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654 965 (392 979–942 636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601 027 (426 369–793 663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire.This is a follow-up to a 2004 study that raised a small ruckus prior to the presidential election claiming that the post-war mortality rate in Iraq was higher than the pre-war rate.
The boys at Crooked Timber, as well as Tim Lambert, have been vigorously defending the study against conservative critics. Megan McArdle is more skeptical, has a raft of posts that critique the study.
This post by Echidne of the Snakes is sympathetic to the study but also cognizant of its flaws, and is worth quoting on two points:
Nobody is happy about the study findings, of course. Let me repeat that: Nobody is happy about the study findings; nobody wants to imagine that many horrible deaths and the suffering that goes along with those or the effect on the survivors....I have only one observation at this juncture. The problem with journalistic coverage of statistical analyses is that they tend to focus on the "headline number," ascribing a weight to it that it sometimes does not deserve. In this study, the 655,000 figure is much less important than the fact that the authors can claim with 95% certainty that at least 392,000 people have died in Iraq since the war started. That's the sobering fact.
Readers are hereby invited to comment.
UPDATE: Tyler Cowen posts on The Lancet study as well -- and highlights another important fact that explains a large part of my disenchantment with the Bush administration:
[T]he sheer number of deaths is being overdebated. Steve Sailer notes: "The violent death toll in the third year of the war is more than triple what it was in the first year." That to me is the more telling estimate.ANOTHER UPDATE: The folks at Iraq Body Count are skeptical.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Finally, I get to play Mousetrap
In today's New York Times Magazne, Neal Pollack has an amusing essay about how three-year olds play games:
Soon after coming into his Hungry Hungry Hippos stash, Elijah had a friend over. He was very excited to share with his friend, whom I’ll call Cinderella to protect her identity.The whole essay is pretty funny, but I was struck by this passage about why today's parents buys these games: "This generation of parents, after all, is obsessed with reviving the pop-cultural experience of its own collective childhood."
Speak for yourself, Neal. I buy games for my children for a completely different reason -- I finally get to play the games I was denied as a youth for some reason or another. And as the title of this post suggests, Mousetrap is friggin' awesome.